That America is a nation of Little Eichmanns whose collective acquiescence allows for the prosecution of the Iraq War and its related war crimes, the expansion of American imperialism and atrophy of civil liberties, economic equity and social justice, is vividly and perceptively presented in two recent essays, one by Joe Bageant and another by Paul Craig Roberts.
There have been other fine essays on this topic, however, these two though quite different in character have a freshness and clarity imparted by a combination of psychological insight and clean writing. After reading them, I was left with the question of how to de-Eichmannize America. To speculate is to write, hence the following.
Bageant’s essay is quite touching because it has what I consider the necessary essential element of any such discussion, the recognition that even “I” — in this case Bageant — along with all other Americans are Little Eichmanns enabling the war crimes and the decay of liberty and moral society. This is a hard argument for many people to swallow. After CounterPunch published my article “On The Question Of American Guilt,” I received a number of e-mail messages from people who wholeheartedly agreed with the essay, with the exception that “I am not guilty.” (1)
Isn’t that always the case? We (each I) are exempt from guilt for the zeitgeist, from responsibility for the inequities of the times, from the rules when they are inconvenient (e.g., parking the car in a red zone or cross-walk when you’re “just going to be a minute,” or being absolved by the holy immersion in thoughts of your child, say double-parked in front of the school). But on honest reflection the excuses fail, as we live in these times we share in the responsibility for them. Recognition of this is the beginning of redemption.
Roberts’ essay is a clear succinct statement of the political reality that has been enabled by this nation of Little Eichmanns. The challenge for this population is to change this reality, and thus redeem ourselves in the eyes of the rest of the world. Can we do this? Yes. Will we do this? Uncertain, sad to say.
Bush and Cheney and all the individuals of the power elite are incidental, they are not the central powers implementing the course of war, imperialism and popular subjugation. They are merely agents of the moment who swim in an enabling sea of Little Eichmannism, and whose persons inhabit roles abstracting and dramatizing the political forces at work today. The essential problem is not to restrain, or reorient, or reeducate or even replace Bush and the others, the essential problem is to alter the sea of collective thought these parasites are adapted to thrive in, and from a collective of Little Debs, or Little Ghandis or Little Galloways, to bubble up actors who can take on the roles needed to portray a political and economic play of an entirely different character.
This brings the battle home; instead of focusing on “them,” whom we are powerless to change, we focus on ourselves, the only individuals we have any chance of changing. The effects of our attitudes and actions radiate out as examples to others. As individuals, there is little we can do to alter society, even if we take heroic action. All immolations are ignored. But, what may seem as insignificant ripples — perhaps just a few words among friends — can have a cumulative effect when replicated by millions of others.
Thich Nhat Hanh describes peace as the direct effect you have on the people you come in contact with. If you embody peace, then you will transmit it. Your example might nudge some of your contacts to act in a similar way. Hanh devised this lesson to meet the needs of anti-war activists who were filled with anger over the atrocious politics they sought to reform; they had a problem in that their frustration distilled into anger repelled many from consideration of the peace message. In “Being Peace” — the title of Hanh’s 1987 book — you did what was available to you in the most effective way to actually bring about “peace” on the large scale that people often fantasize about. (2) A similar psychology applies to de-Eichmannizing America.
Just to be clear, “being peace” does not mean being sweet, nice and deferential without exception. It simply means to keep your cool, to stay calm, focused and polite even as you are being edgy and challenging war-enabling assumptions. Achieving this attitude is the goal of martial arts training. When a person of this sort transmits “peace” to another willing to consider the message, in actuality courage is transmitted. It takes courage to abandon old modes of thought and take on new actions. And it’s quite a lift when you get it.
What would characterize a de-Eichmannized person? Consider these three.
1. “I, too, am a little Eichmann,” a recognition of sharing in the social burden of righting America’s impact on the world. There is a very long and very wide trail of suffering that has resulted from “the American Way Of Life” — the world-chewing AWOL. Recognizing, along with Joe Bageant, that we each are an inextricable part of the AWOL, just as we are each inextricably linked to the non-American others of the wider world is the essential realization for de-Eichmannizing. This is NOT the same as taking on a guilt complex. It is acknowledging a direct connection to those who pay the price for the AWOL, and challenging ourselves to act with forethought. Because of our “globalized” economics, “America” and “American” in this regard can be taken as umbrella terms encompassing “capitalism,” “industrialized nations” and most particularly “wealth.”
2. Keeping your religion private and out of public affairs — like keeping your pants on in polite society.
3. Questioning authority openly and often. In a world of conventions, hierarchies and team players, be irritating.
 Thich Nhat Hanh, “Being Peace,” 1987, Berkeley:Parallax Press
MANUEL GARCÍA, Jr. is guiltier than you are, but he redeems himself by also being more irritating. Available at firstname.lastname@example.org